Former first lady of the Cesar department, Cielo Gnecco, has been arrested for alleged links to paramilitary groups, according to the government of Cesar. Gnecco is the matriarch of the Gnecco family, which has assumed regional power in Cesar for decades.
Although her only public position has been the ceremonial role of the First Lady, a brother, a brother-in-law, and a son have, on two occasions, held the position of regional governors. Cielo Gnecco, the daughter of a well-known figure in the La Guajira region who made a fortune in the cattle business, is considered by local media as the shadow leader of a family clan that wields a strong grip on politics in Cesar.
Accused of Instigating 2 Crimes
The accusations leading to Cielo Gnecco’s arrest go beyond her alleged ties to paramilitary groups. She is being investigated for allegedly masterminding the kidnapping and murder of two individuals. Paramilitary leader Julio Manuel Argumedo, alias Gabino, confessed that Gnecco had asked the paramilitary group he commanded to carry out the kidnapping of two contractors working for the Cesar Governor’s Office who had not paid her an illegal commission of over 2.5 billion pesos.
According to this paramilitary leader, the two individuals were ultimately murdered at the direct request of the woman known in the region as the “political chieftain.” According to the Prosecutor’s Office document, in January 2018, in a statement by alias Gabino, “he informed that citizens Jairo Alberto Hernández Hinojosa and Carlos Alberto Mendoza Guerra, who would have been contractually linked to the Governor’s Office of the Cesar department, were held against their will by members of that organization.”
The prosecuting entity goes on to state that “the illegal deprivation of liberty aimed to force the kidnapped individuals to return 2.5 billion pesos to Cielo María Gnecco, which they had apparently obtained from their dealings with the departmental entity and from which they were supposed to deliver a portion to her.” In the accusation, the Prosecutor’s Office also links Javier Gámez, who allegedly participated with paramilitary member David Hernández Rojas, alias 39, in the kidnapping of the two contractors.
The paramilitary leader’s confession goes on to acknowledge that, as they did not pay the commissions, both individuals were killed by David Hernández on November 8, 2022.
Power Behind the Scenes of Corruption
Cielo Gnecco has been accused by various investigative journalism reports of being the true power behind the scenes in the department. One brother, Lucas Gnecco, served as governor on two occasions in the late 1990s. He was ultimately sentenced to 24 years in prison for various acts of administrative corruption during his term. Additionally, although recently deceased, he was being investigated for his alleged paramilitary ties and the murder of journalist Guzmán Quintero.
Another brother, Jorge Gnecco, was a businessman and a recognized paramilitary leader who commanded the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an illegal armed organization demobilized in 2006. He was accused of being the intellectual author of the 1998 murder of drug trafficker Julio Zúñiga.
The most recent scandal that tarnished the head of the Gnecco family was her son Luis Alberto Monsalvo Gnecco’s tenure as governor. He held the position for two terms (2012-2015 and 2020-2021). In August 2021, he was suspended, accused of irregularities in contracts signed during his first term as governor. Specifically, the Prosecutor’s Office accuses him of overpricing by 3 billion pesos a School Feeding Program (PAE) agreement, among other irregularities.
He had already been suspended from office in 2020 for a few months, accused of electoral corruption. Specifically, he was accused of offering land to 800 families, victims of the internal armed conflict, in exchange for votes during his 2011 campaign. Monsalvo Gnecco was sentenced for this case. Finally, he was suspended from office and replaced by the current appointed governor, Andrés Meza.
Cesar Social Manager
The alleged crimes associated with Cielo Gnecco reportedly occurred while she was carrying out her duties as the Cesar department’s social manager during her son’s administration. As always, it was a minor position with no political or legal responsibilities.
Social managers in Colombia have the function of leading, guiding, and coordinating the participation processes of population groups from an age perspective, promoting generational changes, and motivating young people and women to engage in community management.